2014 New York City Marathon Preview: 2-Time Defending Champ Geoffrey Mutai Takes on Wilson Kipsang, Stephen Kiprotich, and Meb

  • submit to reddit

By LetsRun.com
October 29, 2014

The final major marathon of the year is upon us. So far this fall, we’ve seen Dennis Kimetto set a world record in Berlin and Eliud Kipchoge continue his fantastic marathon career in Chicago. Only the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon remains, and no matter what happens, there will be a good story to be written. Will Wilson Kipsang be celebrating a victory, a $500,000 bonus, and the 2013-14 World Marathon Majors title? Will Geoffrey Mutai make it three straight victories on the streets of the Big Apple? Or will someone else in the field — 2013 Boston champ Lelisa Desisa, 2014 Boston champ Meb Keflezighi, Olympic/World champ Stephen Kiprotich — be celebrating shortly before noon on Sunday?

Berlin had the times and Chicago had Kenenisa Bekele, but New York has the best field of all of them. Just look at the names in that last paragraph. Add in 2010 NYC champ Gebre Gebermariam, 2012 Tokyo champ Michael Kipyego, last year’s third-placer Lusapho April and 2013 Boston runner-up/2008 Olympic 10k bronze medallist Micah Kogo and New York has the deepest field of any fall marathon. It’s Kipsang and Mutai, however, who will draw the most attention. Both have gaudy pbs (2:03:23 for Kipsang; a wind-aided 2:03:02 for Mutai), both have won multiple majors (three for Kipsang; four for Mutai) and both are looking for their third straight (three straight major wins for Kipsang; three straight New York titles for Mutai). The two also happen to be training partners — world record holder Kimetto is also in their group — and have stated that they aim to work together to bring down Mutai’s 2:05:06 course record from 2011.

Mutai won in convincing fashion last year but Kipsang is coming off wins in Berlin (former WR) and London and is a force to be reckoned with. Read on to see our breakdown of the men’s field and check back later in the week for more insight from the press conferences in New York.

Key facts

Start time: Sunday, 9:10 a.m. ET

TV/Streaming: National TV coverage on ESPN2, starting at 9 a.m.  You can also stream it on ESPN3.com or the WatchESPN app (online streaming coverage begins at 7 a.m. ET). In the NYC area, TV coverage will be on ABC7 starting at 9 a.m. NYC-area residents can also stream it on WatchABC and 7online.com (online streaming coverage begins at 7 a.m. ET).

Prize money: $705,000 total (plus time bonuses)

1st, $100,000
2nd, $60,000
3rd, $40,000
4th, $25,000
5th, $15,000
6th, $12,500
7th, $10,000
8th, $5,000*
9th, $3,000*
10th, $2,000*
11th, $1,500*
12th, $1,000*
*reduced by half for times slower than 2:16:30

Time bonuses range from $60,000 for a sub-2:05 to $10,000 for a sub-2:10 (course record is 2:05:06)

World Marathon Majors: Since New York is the final race in the 2013-14 cycle, there aren’t a lot of complicated scenarios dependent on other races. It’s very simple. If Wilson Kipsang wins New York, he will win the 2013-14 World Marathon Majors title and the $500,000 grand prize. If he doesn’t win, the title goes to Dennis Kimetto (wins at 2013 Tokyo, 2013 Chicago and 2014 Berlin).

The Headliners

Geoffrey Mutai – Kenya, 33 years old, 2:03:02 pb (2011 Boston), 58:58 half

Last two marathons: 6th, 2014 London (2:08:18); 1st, 2013 New York (2:08:24)

Prep race: 27:32 road 10K in Prague on September 6 (2nd place behind Geoffrey Ronoh)

Geoffrey Mutai, the 2013 New York champion

Mutai celebrates his 2013 victory in NYC

Mutai’s ceiling is very high, but the knock on him is that he’s been inconsistent. Here are his last six marathons:

6th, 2014 London (2:08:18)
1st, 2013 New York (2:08:24)
DNF, 2013 London
1st, 2012 Berlin (2:04:15) to win WMM
DNF, 2012 Boston
1st, 2011 New York (2:05:06 course record)

If you follow the trend of alternating good races with bad ones, it would appear that Mutai is ready for a big race in New York on Sunday. But we’re a bit more scientific than that at LetsRun.com, so we’ll give you three legitimate reasons why Mutai could win.

1) He has run well at New York in the past.

This will be Mutai’s third New York City Marathon. In his first one, in 2011, he set the course record. Prior to that day, the CR was 2:07:43, so Mutai lopped off a massive 2:37 from the record in his very first race in New York. Hurricane Sandy led to the cancellation of the 2012 race, but Mutai was back in 2013 and dominated the field over the final four miles to win title #2. Mutai has talked about breaking his own course record in 2014, so it appears that he is in good shape once again.

2) Mutai trains with Dennis Kimetto

After last year’s win, Mutai spoke to us about how he benefits from his training group, saying, “when one wins, you normally know that everyone is near there.” The fall of 2013 was magical for Mutai’s training group as they went 3-for-3 at majors, with Kipsang setting a world record in Berlin, Kimetto setting a course record in Chicago and Mutai winning NYC. This year, Kimetto set a world record in Berlin in September, suggesting that Mutai is likely in pretty good shape as well after training with him (of course the same could be said of Kipsang, whom Mutai will face in New York).

3) Two very fast road races

10k speed doesn’t always translate to the marathon (ask road 10k world record holder Leonard Komon, who ran just 2:14 in his marathon debut earlier this month in Eindhoven), but a fast 10k usually isn’t a bad sign from a proven marathoner like Mutai. Mutai has the #3 and #4 times in the world this year on the road (27:32 in Prague in September; 27:35 in Boston in June) and that’s a good sign as in the past Mutai has run some very quick tune-up races before his marathon wins. Check out his road races before his previous wins:

2013 New York (11/3): 27:37 road 10k (6/29), 59:57 half (8/18), 59:06 half (9/22). All wins.
2012 Berlin (9/30): 27:42 road 10k (5/26), 27:29 road 10k (6/24). Both wins.
2011 New York (11/6): 29:05 road 10k (7/26), 62:20 half (7/31). Both wins.
2011 Boston (4/18): no road races (5th at World Cross)

If we ignore Boston (since he didn’t run any road races leading up to it), Mutai has excelled on the roads each of the past three summers and those performances have translated into three straight fall marathon victories. With his two quick 10ks this summer, all the pieces seem to be in place for Mutai to run well in New York.

Wilson Kipsang – Kenya, 32 years old, 2:03:23 pb (2013 Berlin), 58:59 half

Last two marathons: 1st, 2014 London (2:04:29 course record); 1st, 2013 Berlin (2:03:23 then-world record)

Prep race: none

Kipsang set the world record last year in Berlin

Kipsang set the world record last year in Berlin

Is Kipsang the best marathoner in the world? Dennis Kimetto and Eliud Kipchoge made their cases earlier this fall, but if Kipsang wins New York, he may trump them both. The title of best marathoner in the world is always going to be subjective, as we explained after Kipsang won London against one of the greatest fields ever assembled in April (scroll down to #3). If Kipsang runs 2:04 on New York, does that trump a world record by Kimetto? Should Kipchoge be punished because two of his three wins didn’t come in majors? Sometimes in women’s running, there’s a definitive world #1 (Paula Radcliffe in 2002-2003; Rita Jeptoo now) but that’s rarely the case on the men’s side.

One certainty: if Kipsang wins on Sunday, he will clinch the 2013-14 World Marathon Majors title by one point over Dennis Kimetto. Each would have three wins; the only difference is that Kimetto DNF’ed Boston in April while Kipsang was fifth in London last year, giving him one more point than Kimetto.

Kipsang hasn’t raced since June 21 (a 60:25 second-place in a half marathon in the Czech Republic) so it’s hard to totally know what kind of shape he’s in. His training partners Kimetto and Mutai have both been running well, and Kipsang, like Mutai, has spoken of attacking the course record in New York. If you want some insight into his training, check out this informative messageboard thread, which features a week from his training log with famed coach Renato Canova discussing Kipsang.

Kipsang may be at a disadvantage against Mutai when it comes to the course. As the two-time defending champion, Mutai is familiar with the New York layout and he’s had success at Boston as well, another hilly, unrabbitted race. Kipsang, meanwhile, is relatively untested on hilly courses. He did win Honolulu in 2012, but apart from that he’s raced in Berlin, London or Frankfurt, all of which are fast, rabbitted races (he was third at the 2012 Olympics in London, which was flat but obviously had no rabbits). There’s not much between Kipsang and Mutai, so Mutai’s experience at New York could prove to be the difference between them.

Don’t Overlook This Guy

Lelisa Desisa – Ethiopia, 24 years old, 2:04:45 pb (2013 Dubai), 59:30 half

Last two marathons: DNF, 2014 Boston; 2nd, 2013 World Championships (2:10:12)

Prep race: 61:38 for 1st at B.A.A. Half Marathon on October 12

Desisa en route to victory in Boston in 2013

Desisa en route to victory in Boston in 2013

It’s easy to overlook Desisa, as the biggest win of his career was overshadowed by the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon. His accomplishments are extremely impressive, however, and indicative that he has what it takes to win on Sunday. Look at his resume from the past 22 months:

January 25, 2013: won Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in 2:04:45.
April 15, 2013: won Boston Marathon in 2:10:22
August 17, 2013: silver at World Championships marathon in 2:10:12
October 13, 2013: won B.A.A. Half Marathon in 60:34
February 14, 2014: won RAK Half Marathon in 59:36
October 12, 2014: won B.A.A. Half Marathon in 61:38

That’s a mighty fine resume, especially when you consider that the B.A.A. Half Marathon course is very hilly. Desisa did DNF Boston in April with an ankle injury, but he ran very well in all three of his marathons last year. We’re willing to overlook that race as a guy by the name of Dennis Kimetto also DNF’ed Boston this year and did pretty well for himself in his fall marathon. When we spoke to Desisa after the B.A.A. Half a few weeks ago, he said that he feels is peaking right now. He’ll need to be in good form to defeat Mutai and Kipsang, but based on his performance in Boston, it’s certainly possible.

The Olympic Champ

Stephen Kiprotich – Uganda, 25 years old, 2:07:20 pb (2011 Enschede), 61:15 half

Last two marathons: 12th, 2014 London (2:11:37); 12th, 2013 New York (2:13:05)

Prep race: 3rd at Great North Run (half marathon) in 61:35 on September 7

It seems odd that the Olympic and World champ is only the fourth guy mentioned in our preview, but Kiprotich’s recent history in non-championship marathons is less than stellar. Since winning the Olympics, he’s run four marathons: 6th at 2013 London, 1st at 2013 Worlds, 12th at 2013 New York and 12th at 2014 London. The London performances make sense — London is always loaded and the presence of pacemakers means that it doesn’t always favor guys like Kiprotich. His 12th-place finish in New York last year came just two and a half months after he won Worlds, likely Kiprotich would have done better with a full buildup. Maybe it was simply a bad race — remember that Meb Keflezighi was 23rd in New York last year and came back to win Boston five months later. Without rabbits, New York is many times run like a championship race so you’d think he’d do well here.

We expect Kiprotich to run better than he did in 2013, but with Mutai and Kipsang gunning for a course record and Desisa in good form, Kiprotich’s best chance for the win is to hope that the leaders kill themselves by going out way too fast. If this race is won in the 2:05s or faster, it will be Mutai, Kipsang or Desisa crossing the finish line first — Kiprotich isn’t going to PR by two minutes in New York. If it’s closer to the 2:08-2:09 range (New York was won in 2:08:24 or slower in all but two years since 2003), Kiprotich could contend for the win.

Looking to Take the Next Step

Michael Kipyego – Kenya, 31 years old, 2:06:48 pb (2011 Eindhoven), 62:08 half

Last two marathons: 4th, 2014 Tokyo (2:06:58); 25th, 2013 World Championships (2:17:47)

Prep race: none

Kipyego has had some success in the marathon the last three years, but none outside the city of Tokyo. He won Tokyo in 2012 (the year before it became a major), was second in 2013 and fourth this year. The guys he lost to in Tokyo this year are good (Sammy Kitwara and Dickson Chumba just went 2-3 in Chicago) but it’s difficult to win a major these days with a 2:06:48 pb unless your name is Meb Keflezighi – and even Meb needs a little help, with the field spotting him a few minutes.

Micah Kogo – Kenya, 28 years old, 2:06:56 pb (2013 Chicago), 59:07 half

Last two marathons: 17th, 2014 Boston (2:17:12); 4th, 2014 Chicago (2:06:56)

Prep race: none

Kogo had an incredible 2013 on the roads of America, sandwiching wins at the Beach to Beacon 10k and Falmouth Road Race with a second-place finish at the Boston Marathon and a fourth in Chicago. 2014 has not gone as smoothly, as after running 59:49 at the RAK Half in February, Kogo ran just 2:17 at Boston and was fifth at Beach to Beacon. Kogo is still only 28 and has an Olympic bronze medal (10,000, 2008) but if he is to be in a factor in New York, he will have to get back to his 2013 form.

Lusapho April – South Africa, 32 years old, 2:08:32 pb (2013 Hannover), 61:15 half

Last two marathons: 15th, 2014 Boston (2:14:59); 3rd, 2013 New York (2:09:45)

Prep race: 65:11 for fourth at Mandela Half Marathon on August 31

Like Kogo, April hasn’t been able to replicate his success from last year so far in 2014. In 2013, he won the Hannover Marathon and then had a career day to finish third in New York. This year, he was only 15th in Boston and ran just 65:11 in his last race, a half marathon in South Africa where he lost to three little-known South Africans.

Peter Cheruiyot Kirui – Kenya, 26 years old, 2:06:31 pb (2011 Frankfurt), 59:22 half

Last two marathons: DNF, 2014 Otsu Lake Biwa Marathon; 8th, 2013 New York (2:11:23)

Prep race: 46:33 for fifth in a 10-miler in Amsterdam on September 21 

Kirui was eighth last year and spent much of the summer running 10,000s on the track, including a fourth-place finish at the Commonwealth Games and a sixth-place finish at the African Championships. His 59:22 half marathon pb ranks him #7 in the world this year. He won’t challenge for the win here, but bettering his 2013 finish is possible.

Three More Worth Watching

Gebre Gebremariam – Ethiopia, 30 years old, 2:04:53 pb (2011 Boston), 60:25 half

Last two marathons: 3rd, 2013 Boston (2:10:28); 14th, 2012 Boston (2:22:56)

Prep race: none

Gebremariam won this race in 2010 and has finished top-four in a major three other times. The reason we haven’t mentioned him yet is that he hasn’t raced in 18 months. And that’s not just marathons — according to All-Athletics.com, he hasn’t run any race since finishing third at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Gebremariam is obviously a talent — he was 2009 World XC champ as well — and at 30, he’s younger than Mutai and Kipsang. But it’s hard to pick him to contend for the win when we have no idea what kind of shape he’s in.

picture of Yuki Kawauchi with LetsRun.com t shirt

LetsRun.com visitor Alan Ryan meets Yuki Kawauchi after his win at the 2013 Beppu-Oita Marathon and presents him with a LetsRun t-shirt.

Yuki Kawauchi – Japan, 27 years old, 2:08:14 pb (2013 Seoul), 62:18 half

Last two marathons: 3rd, 2014 Asian Games (2:12:42); 1st, 2014 Perth (2:12:53)

Prep races: 64:22 for 1st at Chiba Aqualine Half Marathon on 10/19; 64:33 for 1st at Kitami Half Marathon on 10/12

Kawauchi is a cult hero in running circles for his ridiculous racing schedule (this will be his 10th marathon of 2014; he’s also run 13 half marathons) and his consistent performances (in seven of his nine marathons this year, he’s either broken 2:11 or set a course record). He’s also done all this while working a full-time job. Kawauchi finished 11th in NYC last year (ahead of all U.S. runners) and will be looking to improve on that on Sunday.

More on Kawauchi: LRC Speaks to Yuki Kawauchi before 2013 NYC * Japan Running News’ Complete List of Kawauchi’s 2014 races

Masato Imai – Japan, 30 years old, 2:09:30 pb (2014 Oita), 62:37 half

Last two marathons: 2nd, 2014 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon (2:09:30); 6th, 2013 New York (2:10:45)

Prep race: none

Last year’s NYC Marathon was Imai’s first marathon outside of Japan and he responded well, taking sixth, the highest finish ever for a Japanese man in New York. Bettering that performance in 2014 will be difficult, but Imai did PR by almost a minute in his first marathon of the year.

How Will the Race Play Out?

Running first and foremost is about place, not time, and that clearly will be the case in New York on Sunday. Geoffrey Mutai and Wilson Kipsang may be going for a course record, but the much bigger question is which one of them will win? Of course it’s possible that Mutai and Kipsang fade or another runner (Lelisa Desisa?) breaks them late in the race, but if Mutai and Kipsang drop the field, it presents a very interesting scenario.

Kipsang needs a win to clinch the World Marathon Majors title and the accompanying $500,000 prize. If he finishes second or lower in New York, Dennis Kimetto wins the World Marathon Majors title and Kipsang gets $0 for finishing second in the WMM. Kipsang is training partners with Mutai, so if those two are clear of the field at the end of the race, the question has to be asked with such a disparate prize structure will Mutai let Kipsang win, as many suspected Kimetto did for Mutai at Berlin in 2012?

We don’t think so because the wrinkle in New York is that Kimetto is also a training partner of Kipsang and Mutai. (Here is a great thread that explains the relationship between Kipsang, Mutai, and Kimetto and how they all have influenced each others training with Renato Canova’s help). If Mutai lets Kipsang win in NY, Kipsang would get the $500,000 payday, but Mutai would anger his other training partner Kimetto, the same man who some suspect let Mutai win the $500,000 WMM title two years ago. If Kimetto really let Mutai win two years ago in Berlin, the way Mutai can pay Kimetto back is to race all out here in New York and beat Kipsang.

The X Factor – Meb

Meb Keflezighi – 39 years old, 2:08:37 pb (2014 Boston), 61:00 half

Last two marathons: 1st, 2014 Boston (2:08:37); 23rd, 2013 New York (2:23:47)

Prep race: none

We’re going to have a separate article on the American men’s chances in New York, but we have to discuss Meb Keflezighi here as he is the reigning Boston champ and a former New York champ.

Meb Wins Boston Marathon 2014

Meb winning Boston in April

In April, we calculated that the odds of an American winning the Boston Marathon were somewhere between 1 in 27 and 1 in 19,813. Now maybe our calculation was off a bit, but Meb did what he’s always done in his career -defied the odds to become the first American since 1983 to win Boston.

Keflezighi’s clearly not the favorite in New York, but to count him out — even at age 39 — would be foolish especially after what he’s done in his career. What separates Keflezighi from someone like Mutai, Kipsang or Desisa is that he needs a certain set of circumstances to win the race. Can he get the perfect storm of circumstances?  If the winning time is fast (2:06s or low-2:07s), Keflezighi isn’t going to be a factor. Yes, he PR’d by 31 seconds to win Boston in April, but it’s unlikely that he’s going to lop off a minute or two on another challenging course at 39.

It’s also unlikely that Keflezighi wins the race in the same manner in which he won Boston. In that race, the pack (perhaps with some help from the Americans) let Keflezighi and Josphat Boit go, after eight miles and was never able to catch up. That’s not going to happen in New York for two reasons:

1) The top guys in New York will know what Keflezighi did in Boston and won’t let him go easily if he makes an early move. It’s the same thing that happened to Emma Coburn after she won the Diamond League opener in the steeple this season in Shanghai — once everyone realized she was a legitimate threat to win, the top women made sure that Coburn never gained too much ground on them up front.

2) Mutai and Kipsang are attacking the course record (2:05:06), so there’s no chance Meb breaks away from them early as he’s not going to go out on 2:04 pace.

The second point could actually help Keflezighi, though. Keflezighi isn’t going to go out and run 2:05, but if a bunch of people try to, the chances of multiple top guys blowing up skyrockets. With a field this good, odds are that someone is going to be able to hang on well enough to win, even if he doesn’t set a course record. Still, anything can happen in the marathon, so don’t be shocked to see Keflezighi running down the leaders over the final 10k if the record attempt fizzles.

We think he has a tiny chance to win, but said the same thing in Boston and look what happened. Before Meb won New York in 2009, we had him on our radio show, not thinking he’d win but simply because we thought it was absurd he was being totally ignored and he won the damn thing. Every major marathon we discount Meb’s chances and his agent/brother Hawi writes us telling us not to forget Meb. We won’t forget him this time.

The bad thing about people attacking the course record is we may not see Meb in the main tv feed for long, but ESPN likely will have quite a few cameras out there.

More: Our article on all of the American men can be found here: LRC American Men’s Chances: Can Meb Do It Again? What about Ryan Vail or Puskedra?

International elite field (sub-2:17)

NameCountryPBComment
Geoffrey MutaiKenya2:03:022-time defending champ has 4 major victories; 6th in London in April
Wilson KipsangKenya2:03:23London champ/former WR holder going for 3rd straight major win
Lelisa DesisaEthiopia2:04:452013 Boston/Dubai champ DNF’ed Boston in April but has won RAK + BAA halfs in ’14
Gebre GebremariamEthiopia2:04:532010 NYC champ and ’09 World XC champ hasn’t raced since taking 3rd at Boston last year
Peter Cheruiyot KiruiKenya2:06:314th in Commonwealth Games 10k; ran 59:22 half in April; DNF at Lake Biwa Marathon in March
Michael KipyegoKenya2:06:484th, 2nd, 1st at Tokyo last three years; NYC debut
Micah KogoKenya2:06:562008 Olympic 10k bronze medallist was second at Boston in ’13 but just 17th this year
Stephen KiprotichUganda2:07:20Olympic/World champ was just 12th in NYC last year and London in April
Abderrahime BouramdaneMorocco2:07:3336-year-old has put together four top-5s at a marathon, but none since 2010
Yuki KawauchiJapan2:08:14Has run 9 marathons and 13 half marathons in ’14; best time is 2:09:36 in Hamburg in May
Lusapho AprilSouth Africa2:08:323rd at NYC last year; 15th at Boston in April
Danilo GoffiItaly2:08:3341 years old. Hasn’t broken 2:15 since 2011.
Urige BataNorway2:09:27Ethiopian-born athlete DNF’ed at Euro Champs in August
Masato ImaiJapan2:09:306th last year; PR’d at Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in February
Lee TroopAustralia2:09:49Boulder Track Club coach is 41 and was 15th at Boston last year
Denis CurziItaly2:11:1739 years old
Teklu Tefera DenekeEthiopia2:12:05Won Akron Marathon on September 27; 35 years old
Falk CierpinskiGermany2:13:3036-year-old racing again just 5 weeks after taking 19th at Berlin
Tesfaye Assefa DubeEthiopia2:15:22
Roman WegerAustria2:16:2040 years old
Craig HopkinsGreat Britain2:16:512:16 in debut at California International Marathon last year
Alistair CraggIreland2:23:05Irish 5k record holder ran just 2:23 in debut at Fukuoka last year
Harbert OkutiUganda2:29:39Former Iona runner was just 33rd in debut last year
Frank BollenBelgiumDebut